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Myeloma Overview

Myeloma Link 

Connecting African American Communities to
Information, Expert Care, and Support

As black Americans are at twice the risk for myeloma as whites, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society has created Myeloma Link to increase access to education and treatment for myeloma in African American communities.



  • Is a type of cancer that begins in the bone marrow. It is a cancer of plasma cells, which are a type of white blood cells (also called plasma B cells).
  • The disease belongs to a spectrum of disorders referred to as “plasma cell dyscrasias” or "plasma cell neoplasms." 
  • Has several forms:
    • Multiple myeloma - disease involves multiple sites at the time of diagnosis, the most common form
    • Plasmacytoma - accumulation of malignant plasma cells most often in the bones, skin, muscle or lung. A single tumor is called "solitary plasmacytoma." A tumor outside of the bones may be referred to as an "extramedullary plasmacytoma." The plasmacytoma can often be cured with radiation therapy alone, although it may recur or later develop into myeloma.

Doctors divide myeloma into groups that describe how rapidly or slowly the disease is progressing:

  • Asymptomatic or smoldering myeloma progresses slowly and has no symptoms even though the patient has the disease.
    • This type of myeloma requires monitoring but often no treatment. Patients need to be checked often for signs of progression to fully developed myeloma that requires treatment.
  • Symptomatic myeloma has related symptoms such as anemia, kidney damage and bone disease.

Click here to access myeloma statistics.

For more information about myeloma and treatment, access the free booklet, Myeloma and Myeloma Guide: Information for Patients and Caregivers.

What You Should Know

  • Hematologists and oncologists are specialists who treat people who have myeloma or other types of blood cancer.
  • Treatment outcomes vary widely among patients; results depend on many individual factors.

What You Should Do

  • Talk with your doctor about your diagnostic tests and what the results mean
  • Talk with your doctor about all your treatment options and the results you can expect from treatment.
  • Ask your doctor whether a clinical trial is a good treatment option for you.

To download lists of suggested questions to ask your healthcare providers, click here.

How Does Myeloma Develop?

Myeloma develops when a plasma cell is changed (mutated). 

  • Plasma cells are made from B lymphocytes (B cells), a type of white blood cell that is found in the bone marrow. Healthy plasma cells are part of the immune system and make proteins called “antibodies,” which help fight infection.

The mutated plasma cell (myeloma cell) multiplies, and, if untreated, these cells continue to grow in the marrow. They crowd out the healthy plasma cells and the normal stem cells in the bone marrow that form the white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets. If not treated, the cancerous cells can:

  • Crowd out functioning white cells, and the immune system can't guard against infection effectively
  • Secrete high levels of protein in the blood and urine, which can lead to kidney damage
  • Build up in bone, causing it to weaken, which can lead to bone pain and fractures.

Risk Factors

Doctors don't know why some cells become myeloma cells and others don't. For most people who have myeloma, there are no obvious reasons why they developed the disease.

There are some factors that may increase the risk of developing myeloma, including:

  • Age - Most people who develop myeloma are over age 50 years. Fewer cases of myeloma occur in people younger than 40.
  • Sex - More males than females develop myeloma.
  • Race - Blacks have more than twice the age-adjusted incidence rate of myeloma than whites.
  • Medical History - People with a history of MGUS (monoclonal gammopathy of unknown significance).
  • Environment - Some studies are investigating a link between the development of myeloma and one or more of the following factors: radiation or exposure to certain kinds of chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers and Agent Orange.
  • Obesity - Research suggests that obese people have a higher incidence of myeloma.
  • Presence of chronic immunodeficiency
  • Presence of known inflammatory diseases or conditions (eg, cardiovascular disease or type II diabetes).
  • Occupation- Some studies indicate that firefighters have a statistically significantly higher risk for multiple types of cancer than the general population.


Source: Myeloma. Reviewed by Ruben Niesvizky, MD

Related Links

  • Click here to access the NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Multiple Myeloma booklet.